More than half of asylum seekers requesting our help are destitute



Attn: News Desks

Embargoed  0001hrs, 14 May 2009


14 May 2009


More than half of asylum seekers requesting our help are destitute, says Scottish Refugee Council

New statistics published today by Scottish Refugee Council reveal that levels of destitution among their client group are still shockingly high. 

Fifty-two per cent of asylum seekers and refugees using refugee advice services in Scotland and Northern Ireland had no access to any benefits or support. Many ended up on the streets, or were temporarily staying with friends or acquaintances.

The figures are drawn from a new report into destitution, published today by the Asylum Support Partnership, a coalition of the leading refugee charities in the UK, which reveals the failures of the asylum system to look after people in dire need.

Cases collected in the Second Destitution Tally report include people who are at the end of the asylum process. It also shows that nearly all people visiting Glasgow’s refugee support charity Positive Action in Housing were destitute – 98 per cent – with 55 per cent of those having been destitute for more than six months.   

Strikingly, those recorded as destitute came from a small number of countries including Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Eritrea, places so dangerous they are frightened to or cannot go back. For them being hungry and homeless in Britain is a better option than putting their or their children’s lives in danger in their country of origin. 

Others were entitled to support, but administrative failures in the asylum system meant they were left destitute.

The evidence comes from a ‘snapshot survey’ of people visiting the UK-wide national network of refugee and asylum advice services during October 2008.

John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said:

“The number of destitute people coming to us for help continues to be harrowing, despite similar evidence last year as well as a wealth of reports on the matter from ourselves and other refugee agencies.

“As the survey shows, the system continues to fail some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. There are many ways the UK Border Agency can help alleviate this desperation – by allowing asylum seekers at any stage of their claim the right to work, or by streamlining the process so that benefits get to the claimant on time. 

“We would also demand that families with children receive support whether their claim to asylum has been accepted or not. It is only through this that we will see an end to children living in poverty and desperation on our streets.

“Many asylum seekers and refugees want to return home when it is safe for them to do so. Until then, under no circumstances should we be leaving people to starve on our streets.”




Notes to editor:


  1. The Second Destitution Tally was conducted by the Asylum Support Partnership (ASP), which is made up of five leading refugee agencies across the UK - Scottish Refugee Council, Refugee Council, Refugee Action, North of England Refugee Service and Welsh Refugee Council - during a four-week period October 1 – October 31, 2008. Evidence from two other agencies was also included: London’s Southwark Daycentre and Glasgow’s Positive Action in Housing.
  2. Of the 4093 clients who visited the above agencies’ offices in this period, 1972 were destitute, unable to access support from the Border and Immigration Agency, not able to work or claim any benefits. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, of 569 clients visiting services in this period, 295 were destitute – 52 per cent.
  3. Of 84 clients who visited Positive Action in Housing’s offices in this period, 82 were destitute – 98 per cent.
  4. The figures relating to Scotland quoted here are from the Second Destitution Tally’s UKBA regional figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland. No figures were recorded in Northern Ireland.
  5. For further information contact Clare Harris or Karin Goodwin, media and communications officer at Scottish Refugee Council on 0141 223 7927 or 07734 030 763. An embargoed copy of the report is also available from Hannah Ward at the Refugee Council on 020 7346 1213 or


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